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Meet John Woody: an advocate for pay and benefits

Three decades have passed since he first began cleaning floors, and John Woody continues to enjoy his job.

Woody took the job as custodian at Washington-Coleman Elementary School when he got out of the U.S. Navy in 1978. He would hold his position there until the school closed, and he moved to Sinai Elementary in 1995.

“I had just got out of the Navy and went to the library. I saw the job listing and applied,” said Woody.

Woody also served three years in the Army and 16 years in the Virginia National Guard.

Woody remembers when he first began the job back in the late 70s, and he had to mop up the solutions he used on the floors, however nowadays he can use the machine provided by the school system. 

According to the tenured custodian, his
favorite part of the job is buffing the floors and making them look shiny.

 But when it comes time to strip the floors in the summer, he’s not too fond of that.

Over the years he has seen many changes in the school system and how his job is to be completed. When he first started, he just kept the floors clean and checked the classrooms, cleaned bathrooms and took out the trash.

“Through the years they’ve added bathrooms in the kindergarten classes, got to wipe the tables, clean the mobile units, a lot of extra has been added to my job over the years,” said Woody.

When Woody began working and he learned of the lack of benefits for custodians, he became an advocate for the employees to receive higher pay and better benefits.

“I went to the school board for a pay increase, and they’ve always been cooperative,” said Woody.

According to Woody, custodians and cafeteria workers are extremely underpaid and should be more equal in comparison to the other school employees.

“We still have to pay the same prices when it comes to groceries and other things,” he added.

Some of his most memorable experiences include one year when a teacher came to him and said that a student had told her he wanted to be just like Mr. Woody.

“I couldn’t believe it, that a student wanted to be like me. But a lot of the times the kids see me riding my bike on my break,” said Woody.

The experienced custodian would like the community and parents of the students at Sinai Elementary to know that he enjoys his job and “how important it is to keep things clean for the kids.

“I remember at Washington-Coleman I would help dump trays sometimes, and as the kids would come to dump their trays I’d ask them one plus one, one plus two, and they would answer. I had fun doing it,” said Woody.

“I enjoyed it, and sometimes I see them now, and they’re older, and they’ll come up to me and say they remember me asking them one plus one,” he added.

Woody appreciates the improvements that have been made to the schools for safety purposes including closing and locking the outdoor doors.

The tenured custodian said he plans to retire in the next year or so, but he’s not quite ready yet.

Woody resides in South Boston and has two kids.



This is part of an occasional series The Gazette-Virginian is publishing this year spotlighting unsung heroes in the education arena.